The most expensive coffee in the world is made from animal poop

kopi luwak.png

Meet the Asian Palm Civet. Also known as a Toddy Cat, he is a feline-sized mammal native to Southeast Asia. Civets like to eat red coffee berries and beans. In the jungles in which they live, they find the sweetest, ripest ones and munch on them with their cute little faces. But they can’t digest them, so the berries and beans come out as poop. One day, humans discovered that the enzymes in the civets’ tummies break down the coffee’s bitterness, leaving behind an extremely delicious pooped bean. They took the poop home, washed it lightly, roasted it, ground it, poured boiled water over it, and drank it. Tastes like caramel and chocolate! Thus spawned a small industry of poop-coffee-making.

Today, Kopi Luwak–civet coffee in Indonesian–sells for about $30 a cup in select coffee shops in Japan and the US. I have yet to try a cup, but if you’ve ever drank it I’d love to know whether you thought it was worth the extra bucks.

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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27 Responses to The most expensive coffee in the world is made from animal poop

  1. phisrow says:

    Hmm. Sounds like some enterprising scientist needs to characterize the digestive enzymes of the Civet, splice the relevant genes into e. coli, and start producing these in industrial scale fermentation tanks…

    The purists will cry; but such is progress.

  2. DefMech says:

    Mikkeller makes a coffee stout using civet poop beans.

  3. O_M says:

    …Well, as the late prophet Richard Pryor once said “Yoo order shit, yoo eat shit.” :-)

  4. Doctor Popular says:

    I recently tried a cup with a couple of friends of mine. It was a neat experience, but not one that I need to recreate soon. Though the bitterness was gone, I also felt some of the richness was gone too. The coffee was just a bit too smooth for my taste. I do highly recommend that every “coffee snob” try some if they get the chance, but it’s not going to become an obsession for many of them.

    If you live in the Bay Area, you can try a cup from Bean Street in San Mateo. I believe it’s $30 a cup. Here are some pics from our experience there http://www.flickr.com/photos/docpopular/3487324066/in/photostream/

  5. desp says:

    This is a repost of a repost.

  6. caipirina says:

    I recall this being a side story in a not so long ago movie .. and I just can;t think of the name .. anyone?

    30$ for a cup of coffee … hmmm

  7. Anonymous says:

    I drank this all the time in Indonesia and Vietnam – didn’t realize it was so expensive to buy in the US!

  8. hokano says:

    While there’s no denying the time-honored relationship of coffee and poop, I have to say that I prefer the arrangement wherein the former aids in production of the latter rather than the other way around.

  9. Milarepa says:

    I witnessed a blind tasting of this coffee versus three others: a cheap one, an expensive one and another super special brand which is even more expensive then the poop coffee. The guy who tasted was some kind of super coffee expert, I guess.
    Bottomline was that he didn’t like the poop coffee at all and said it tasted like some cheap coffee.

    He was very intrigued by the other coffee though for which you pay about 25 Bucks a cup.

  10. Astin says:

    Yup, this is ancient news, and has been on Boing before.

    Also, the concept of civets roaming free and people finding their poop is nice but outdated. As soon as this stuff became popular, locals started capturing the civets and force-feeding them berries to create larger volumes of the beans.

    Since the civets get barely any nutritional value from the beans, they’re eventually being starved to death while being stuffed. This will also result in a lower-quality coffee since they aren’t picking their own ripe berries.

    There are also “free-range” civet farms, where they’re enclosed in a large area and allowed to roam and eat as they choose.

    As for creating an artificial process for this, there’s at least one scientist currently working on a method using a big ol’ vat of enzymes. Now if only I could find that article on it…

  11. Latente says:

    30$ LoL

    if you came to Milan (Italy) , you can try it for 8€ @Peck

    http://www.peck.it/te-caffe/caffe-monorigine/indonesia-kopi-luwak-250-gr/dettaglio/id-1381014/

    i try it on a coffè in Lecco (Italy) for only 3€ :)
    it’s less bitter than a normal espresso but the taste is very persistent.

  12. Anonymous says:

    @Caprihina

    “The Bucket List”

  13. Q says:

    its also expensive here in Indonesia
    a cup of kopi luwak at the cafe typically cost US$8

  14. swag says:

    Oh, please. Even Oprah got all sophomoric scatological silly over this stuff on her show six years ago.

    Can you dig up some news on the Spanish-American War while you’re at it?

  15. overunger says:

    A few extra bucks?! Where are you buying your coffee, from Saudi royals?

    That better be a damn good cup of coffee for $30. !!!

  16. bwah says:

    I tried this a few years ago at Legare’s in Portland, OR. Four of us shared a press pot, which gave us each about 6oz. Normally I use cream in coffee, but felt guilty about spending $10 just to mix it 50/50 with cream, so I tried it black. It was actually quite smooth.

    If you try it, make sure you’re not paying big bucks for mechanically created “poopy coffee” (see #15). For coffee fiends, it’s worth trying once…I recommend doing it the way I did, where you get a taste without forking out all that cash.

  17. Narual says:

    Civets – not only did they bring us coffee, they brought us SARS.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SARS

  18. Joe in Australia says:

    I hear that there’s similar coffee processed by … wait for it … humans. As you might expect, this is very much a fringe gourmet product and the manufacturers make a big fuss about the fact the beans travel through the digestive systems of young, attractive women. Humans can’t eat very many raw coffee beans so the throughput is limited and the final product is extremely expensive.

    Perhaps you’ve heard their slogan?

    Two girls, one cup.

  19. schwantz says:

    I had some at Bean Street too. It was very good coffee. However, it seems dubious that this coffee is actually harvested from Civet cat poop. Not only would it be hard (near-impossible) to verify that it was truly Kopi Luwak, but at $700/lb (or whatever), it would be very lucrative to go buy some high-end Kona coffee and pretend that you found it in some cat shit.

  20. Ilya says:

    I’ve had it a few times now in different shops, and enjoyed it. I’d describe it the taste as a cross between an aged Sumatra and a dark-roasted Moka. The beans have a slightly disturbing musky smell, but I can’t detect it in the brewed coffee. I’d say it’s certainly worth trying for the experience, but (like Blue Mountain) it’s not so transcendently superior as to justify the price for regular drinking.
    As for what the luwak is actually contributing, it’s worth remembering that the same animal has anal musk glands that provide the base for perfumes. Somehow this is rarely mentioned in the promotional literature; for some reason they prefer to focus on the idea that the luwak is choosing the choicest, ripest cherries …
    I also find it amusing that this is perhaps the most vegan-friendly animal-produced food ever. You let the animal roam free, eating its favorite food, and you pick up its droppings. Who could object? (Though I confess I live in fear that someone will tell me the luwaks are actually kept in tiny cages and force-fed a slurry of rotten cherries and laxatives …)
    And finally, I should note that here in Singapore, kopi luwak apparently has an ambiguous legal status. As I was hunting for sources, a Vietnamese coffee importer told me that they sometimes have problems clearing it through customs, so instead they have invented … wait for it … SYNTHETIC CIVET-SHIT COFFEE, using vegetable enzymes to achieve a similar effect:
    http://www.trung-nguyen-online.co.uk/legendee.html
    What is human society for, if not the production of such marvels?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Tried it years ago in a coffee house. Really great, nice flavor, kinda chocolate-fruit kind of taste. Not worth the money.

  22. Marcel says:

    Well really, how could I possibly resist posting this link in here?!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy6uLfermPU

  23. Blackhat says:

    I wonder what the first person to drink this was thinking… Geez, humans will try anything!

  24. semiotix says:

    I think it was Dave Barry (yeah, yeah, I know) who decades ago put this into perspective for me. He heard about this stuff, ordered some, and then realized he’d have no way of knowing if he was getting the genuine article or not.

    The way he put it was, what on earth have I come to when I’m paranoid that someone might be selling me coffee that WASN’T pooped out by a weasel?

  25. notjackobrien says:

    Okay, so severe coffee nerd rant to follow, skip if you like.

    Coffee is processed typically via one of two processes, typically called the “wet” or “washed” process or the “dry” or “natural” process. As you can imagine, one involves water, and one doesn’t, but the point is that any major grade beanhead will be able to go on for hours about how this drastically affects the flavor of the coffee. (The roaster I work for recently switched our supply of Ethiopian Sidamo beans from washed to natural and the difference is astounding). Both, however, are perfectly valid ways to process coffee, until we get to the Indonesian “semi-dry” process.

    The Indonesians typically remove the fruit of the coffee mechanically, and then leave the beans out on large patios to dry and remove the mucilage. Cuppers will often refer to Indonesian beans as being “earthy”, due to the fact that the beans literally have dirt in them from sitting on these sun drying patios for sometimes months at a time. Indonesian farmers typically don’t have access to a lot of running water, so this is mostly a practical move rather than a conscious one to improve taste.

    Now here’s where the critters come in.

    The average animal digestive system does almost exactly what the wet/washed coffee process does. The civets wash the flesh off the ripened cherry and strain off the mucilage, except they do it with their saliva/mouths and stomach acids rather than with washing basins and sieves. Sure, there may be something specific about their digestive enzymes that do something unique, but I sincerely doubt it’s much more than the difference in process would do.

    Indonesians naturally cup with lots of chocolate notes with not a lot of acidity or tartness, it’s just that this is typically sublimated by the aforementioned earthiness that comes with the territory.

    I once had the pleasure of sampling some “bird processed” Peruvian coffee (same deal as the Kopi Luwak except with Peruvian birds rather than Indonesian civets), and while it was mighty tasty, it wasn’t that terribly much different from a high grade washed Peruvian.

    Further, the majority of the coffee that the civets get to is Robusta coffee (better known to you and I as “gas station coffee”) the lower grade, cheaper to grow cousin of the specialty Arabica beans. So while the civets might pick the cream of the crop to eat and poop out, it’s the best of the worst. Kopi Luwak beans are effectively the valedictorians of summer school.

    tldr: If the Indonesian coffee farmers had access to running water, all of their coffees would taste a lot like Kopi Luwak.

  26. strider_mt2k says:

    South Park has taught me that there is no upper or lower limit to human madness.

    Drink your poop juice and enjoy.

  27. codekitchen says:

    I tried a few cups of this when a coffee geek friend of mine got a half pound for his birthday. It was tasty coffee, but nothing special really. Though I question how fresh the coffee was — expensive, extremely perishable and “manufactured” far from where it is consumed. That’s a bad combination.

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